El Toro Blanco pairs the world’s best tequila with high-brow Mexican food.
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El Toro Blanco, the latest establishment from the team behind Soho’s B&B Winepub and Lure Fishbar, bets on a trifecta of 100-plus tequila selections, a pan-Mexican menu that sees traditional dishes executed with the same panache as fancier ones, and a fashionable ambience that feels like a Mexico City design hotel.
“We’re striving to be the best,” says Andrew Gwyther, who came over from Fishbar, where he had his nose more in wine than liquor, to develop what he calls El Toro Blanco’s “tequila program.” His objective: to turn customers on to surprisingly complex, small-production tequilas. “You have vintages, regions, and single estates,” he says, explaining tequila’s similarities to fine wine. “Increasingly, people want to know more about where their product is coming from.”
The best place to get schooled in tequila is at the 10-seat bar at the front of the restaurant, where you can gaze upon the vast selection of bottles. Gwyther took us through a six-course pairing of food and tequila.
Guacamole Preparation: Made fresh to order with warm chips and ETB salsa fresca Pairing: 2011 Tequila Ocho Plata. “This is a plata, so there’s no oak,” Gwyther says. “It has a touch of spice and a medicinal quality to it, so it pairs well with the fatty guacamole, which has onion and serrano chile.” A distinct minerality and an earthy finish make this a great starting point for a meal.
Elote Verde Tamale Preparation: Fresh corn, roasted poblano chile, queso fresco, and green chile salsa Pairing: Scorpion Mezcal Reposado. “A slight residual sweetness in the reposado pairs well with the tamale, and a touch of spice pairs well with the green chile,” says Gwyther. This spirit rests in oak for as long as 11 months and comes away with a certain roundness and sweetness, making it more palatable than other mezcals.
Costillas Empanadas Preparation: Slow-roasted short rib, Oaxaca cheese, and ancho barbecue sauce Pairing: Tequila 123 Tres Añejo. This organic tequila ages in white oak for 18 months to come out with lovely notes of brown sugar and caramel. “It pairs with the costillas empanadas because of the sweet ancho barbecue sauce,” says Gwyther.
Lobster Ceviche Preparation: Lobster with coconut, citrus, mango, jicama, habanero, and mint Pairing: Casa Dragones Joven. “There are a lot of tropical characteristics in the lobster ceviche,” our guide says. Casa Dragones, a “sipping tequila,” is a blend of platinum and extra añejo tequilas. If you’ve ever doubted tequila’s ability to pair with food hand-in-glove, like wine, then you need to try this dynamic duo.
Escuela Vieja Tacos Preparation: Seasoned ground beef, shredded lettuce, cheddar cheese, pico de gallo, and a crispy taco shell Pairing: El Mayor Extra Añejo. “The Escuela Vieja is our old-school taco, with a nice greasy meat flavored with dark chocolate,” says Gwyther. “The El Mayor Extra Añejo pairs well, thanks to its candied cherry and chocolate characteristics.” This tequila sits in charred white oak barrels for about 37 months for a smooth but full-bodied flavor.
Coconut Tapioca Preparation: Tropical fruit, mango, and coconut sorbet Pairing: Del Maguey Crema de Mezcal. “The dessert’s tropical notes pair well with a Del Maguey Crema de Mezcal, which is blended with agave syrup to give it a nice sweetness.” We’d never thought of mezcal in the vein of such after-dinner drinks as brandy or cognac…until now.